Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Israeli lobby strikes at Gandhi!

Arun Gandhi, Mahatma's grandson, is at the receiving end of "Jewish" ire after his comments castigated Jews for their continuing exploitation of the holocaust. Here's what got the "Jewish" goat and what he wrote on The Washington Post's site: “Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews. The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on the regret turns into anger.”

Even before Arun Gandhi could cry "O Jerusalem!" Jewish lobby groups began gunning for him and his grandfather. The influential Jewish community has now even forced him to resign as the president of M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence, an institution he founded in the US to propagate Mahatma's ideals. Gandhi apologised saying he "should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people”. But, as we know well, there are no clear divisions between what is seen as anti-Semitism and what is legitimate criticism of Israeli state policy. John Mearsheimer's and Stephen Walt's controversial book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, is just one instance. Tony Judt, who called for the creation of a binational Israeli state with equal rights for all Jews and Arabs living in Israel and the Palestinian territories, is another example. Judt was even prohibited from speaking at the Polish embassy after Jewish groups complained against his views.

I am yet to come across a convincing demarcation of what is legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and what is anti-Semitism. Any suggestions? Or, is Israel synonymous with world Jewry despite the fact that more Jews lived outside Israel than in the Jewish state till 2006?

Monday, January 21, 2008

A "sinister tie-up" between India and Israel?

Long speculated, India launched today Israel's most advanced spy satellite, Tecsar, that transmits images regardless of time and weather conditions. Defence analysts say the satellite will target Iran's programme for nuclear energy (nuclear weapons for some) and thus may be viewed as a "sinister tie-up" between India and Israel against Muslims. This is the second such satellite aimed at Iran after Eros B, launched in April last year by Russia. While American mentors of close Indo-Israeli ties will be happy at this development, will Indian authorities withstand pressure if an offer to launch Iranian spy satellites, such as Mesbah or Sina 1, is made to New Delhi by Tehran?

Friday, January 18, 2008

The left-wing love of a right-wing president

The contrast's stark. Sarkozy's right-wing views have been well-documented. But this brilliantly researched article in The Guardian brings into focus Carla Bruni's political affiliations and they couldn't have been more different from those of the French president.

The irony of it all, Carla Bruni could never have made it to France if Sarkozy's hugely-criticised DNA test rule for immigrants were in place when the model and her family chose to live in France. The controversial rule seeks to allow only those immigrants with proved paternity to move to France. Bruni, who fled Italy for France, would have failed the test as she moved there with her stepfather and mother. In fact, during the presidential campaign Bruni supported the socialist Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy and even attended a concert to protest against Sarkozy's controversial plans for DNA testing.

Bruni, who has in the past, supported left-leaning causes, has even criticised former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. She now learns that the TV-obsessed and "post-cultural" president Sarkozy is being likened to Berlusconi.

All this leaves us wondering how Bruni will adjust to her partner's political thoughts. And what role she'll play as France's first lady. That's obviously superseded with a more important question: How long will she remain France's first lady?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nano ke side-effects!

Some brilliant cartoons on the Nano phenomenon from the Hindi press:

Monday, January 14, 2008

What does the burqa veil?

Shahid Nadeem of Pakistan's famous Ajoka Productions, a theatre company, has an interesting response: “I use the burqa as a metaphor. The burqa is also being used by world powers to hide what they are really doing. They are using the burqa to pretend they are fighting for justice or democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He is in town to perform Burqavaganza, a play banned in Pakistan, at the National School of Drama's theatre festival.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Is Nano really a Rs 1 lakh-car?

Really for Rs 1 lakh? (Image: NYT)

Everyone is gasping at and lauding the fact that Indian automobile engineers have produced a car that can be sold at Rs 1 lakh. But I wonder if all this excitement about Nano as a seminal feat of Indian engineering is well merited and if this price tag isn't a face-saving exercise for Ratan Tata. Not that I want to be the party pooper. In fact, I feel the criticism offered by Sunita Narain or Rajendra Pachauri about environmental damage is completely misplaced. It sure is remarkable that so many Indian families can now look forward to owning a car. That doesn't stop the government from improving public transport facilities. Does it? Moreover, it may reduce the number of two-wheelers on the roads and related deaths.

However, my hunch is that Nano is worth more than the quoted price and that Tata is selling the car at a lower price to save face and as an unprecedented publicity gimmick. Tata initially wanted to design a low-cost car with no fixed price. The exact price tag came up casually during Ratan Tata's interview with FT. Since then the tag has stuck and has been spectacularly propagated worldwide. Who would risk not adhering to that? Imagine the disaster if Nano was priced even at Rs 1.5 lakh! Tata’s comment, with a fine reading between the lines, hints at what I am referring to: "The Rs 1 lakh price tag might be difficult to hang on to, given rising costs. But a promise is a promise," Tata said, adding, "I am a shy person. The media attention and expectation were traumatic… But the challenge has just begun. We have to deliver on our promise. The nation has to accept it. There is a along way to go." And already, he’s praying for a tax break to reduce further possible losses.

So is it, after all, that great an achievement for Tata and the Indian automobile industry? What if XYZ firm produced a car that would have normally sold at Rs 2 lakh but undercut the price at Rs 1 lakh to sell more and gain attention? More so when the firm is one like Tata that can recover losses from its other operations and has large economies of scale? Moreover, variants of Nano, it has been announced, will be priced higher. And we haven’t even driver a Nano yet. Ratan Tata famous one-liner "A promise is a promise" sounds more like "Well, we would have sold the car for more than Rs 1 lakh but then we had to stick to the tag and save our face. Not doing so would have been a publicity disaster for the company."

Would you still view Nano’s launch so jubilantly? Not me.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Making sense of the brouhaha down under

While most newspapers and television channels cry hoarse about the affront to “national pride” and bat passionately for the Indian cricket team, practically none of them have attempted any form of introspection. The Indian cricket team, after all, isn’t quite smear-free. Rohit Brijnath, my favourite Indian sports writer, fills that vacuum and offers some incisive and enlightening comments on the cricketing controversy.

Some excerpts:

It is interesting that despite losing two successive Tests the Indian cricket captain is still respected, and after winning 16 Tests in a row there are calls in his own country for the Australian captain to be sacked. A lesson is to be found here: how a team plays sport is important, but so is how it conducts itself.

only recently in India during the one-dayers against Australia in October 2007, team manager Lalchand Rajput spoke immaturely about giving it back to the visitors, and S Sreesanth and Harbhajan behaved in intemperate fashion. Then, India's "fearless, young" players were cheered widely for "fighting fire with fire", yet there was nothing fearless or smart about their behaviour.

Of course, racist language, which Harbhajan Singh is accused of, is unacceptable, and the effort of some Indian observers to downplay how vile the term "monkey" is to a black man is offensive. Yet it is not only racist language that is repugnant, but Ponting's team has yet to grasp this, and continues to use words that are not necessarily part of the banter in Asia. "Monkey" is wrong, but so is stuff about body parts and dubious parentage. Yet at the same time for the Indians to wail about "bastard" suggests their vocabulary is priestly pure.

No doubt Mike Procter's decision was absent of fairness, and the umpiring incompetent (though all teams will rightfully now cry for umpiring changes mid-tour), but predictably there is overreaction in India, where cricket is rapidly being infected with jingoism. One television channel argued whether the Sydney Test should be annulled, others considered a cricket referee's decision as some bruise on the national honour (this, in a time of farmer suicides)* and called for the team to return. In sport, you don't sulk and take the ball home, you play on like men.

And not just television channels. HT frontpaged a survey of a few hundred respondents on Tuesday (January 8) to say “Come back home, nation tells its players”.

Finally, Brijnath, in his conclusion, condenses the lesson from this controversy in two brilliant lines: Ponting's team needs to grow up. Kumble's team needs to remember how to bat. To which, I may add mine: Cut the chatter. Let the bat and the ball do the talking.

* Few would dispute the fact that Sharad Pawar seems more perturbed and proactive in times of cricketing crises rather than in times of agrarian crises. If there’s a second lesson that can be drawn from this episode, it is this: Sack Pawar as the Minister for Agriculture. Let him keep his cricketing portfolio for that is the cap he likes to don.